Prior to municipal amalgamation in 1995 which saw the formation of CBRM, Whitney Pier is a neighbourhood on the northern boundary of the City of Sydney. It is a triangle-shaped area north of the Muggah Creek estuary running along the eastern shore of Sydney Harbour.
Whitney Pier derives its name from Henry Melville Whitney, an American industrialist who established the Dominion Coal Company (DOMCO) in 1893 and its subsidiary the Dominion Iron & Steel Company Ltd. (DISCO) in 1901.
It was separated from Sydney's central business district by Canada's largest integrated steel mill, as well as a large railway yard and tracks running from the harbour to coal mines in nearby New Waterford and Glace Bay.
The geography of Whitney Pier is defined by its relationship to the heavy industry of coal mining and steel manufacturing. The International Shipping Pier is located at the southern edge of the neighbourhood, adjacent to the steel plant property and is the current location for coal imports that feed the Lingan Generating Station, with the coal being hauled by the Sydney Coal Railway. From 1968–2001, the Cape Breton Development Corporation's Devco Railway hauled coal from coal mines northeast of Whitney Pier to this shipping pier for international export; the last coal mine in the area known as Industrial Cape Breton closed in November 2001, forcing the power plant to rely on coal imports for the first time ever.
From the 1880s to 1968, the Sydney and Louisburg Railway and its predecessors hauled coal from various coal mines to the shipping piers at this location; it was the owner of the S&L during the 1890s-1900s, Henry M. Whitney, who the community is named after - "the Whitney Pier".
The steel mill was responsible for the neighbourhood's economic growth during the 20th century but it is also responsible for its economic decline as well. From the steel mill's inception in 1901 until the mid-1980s, the mill was fueled with coke, a byproduct of cooking raw coal over a multiple hour period. To do this, coal was shipped by the Sydney & Louisburg Railway (and later the Devco Railway) from the mines to a large battery of coke ovens bordering the railway lines on the south side of the neighbourhood along Frederick Street on a hill overlooking the steel mill. The coke ovens produced coke for the steel mill's oxygen blast furnaces 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for almost 90 years.
The resulting run off of contaminants from the coke production, as well as general contaminants from the steel mill itself, drained into Muggah Creek, a tidal estuary that geographically separated the steel mill and Whitney Pier from Sydney's central business district.
Currently, after several decades of environmental reviews and scientific studies, the federal and provincial governments are undertaking a $400 million cleanup of the site which will see the industrial contaminants in the estuary sealed with cement.
The neighbourhood is centred along Victoria Road, stretching north from a railway overpass at the northern edge of the steel mill property through to a section of the road known as "Dead Man's Turn". Also, Whitney Pier Memorial Junior High, Harbourside Elementary School and Cape Breton Business College (CBBC) are the three schools that are located in Whitney Pier.
Victoria Road has been home to a variety of interesting shops, restaurants, and community venues, including:
Whitney Pier's residents can trace their ancestry to multiple ethnic backgrounds. The opening of the steel mill by the Dominion Steel Company in 1901 attracted many workers from Newfoundland, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy, the Caribbean and African Nova Scotians to settle in the area.
Notable people from Whitney Pier include:
In May, the Whitney Pier Society for the Arts organizes the PierScape Arts Festival showcasing art from dozens of Cape Breton artists across a variety of mediums. The festival also holds a number of art workshops and events for the public, and recognizes distinguished artists, musicians, and contributors to the community.
The first week of August sees an annual neighbourhood celebration called "Action Week". In recent years, this has consisted of events such as a memorial "fun run", street dances, a Caribbean festival, a baseball game, picnics, and various activities for children.